Today I did something so unexpected and surreal – I held history in my hands… I should really say I held history between my fingers.
This is a true size replica of the world’s earliest known realistic representation of a human face sculpted in mammoth ivory more than 25,000 years ago. She is known as La Dame de Brassempouy (the Lady of Brassempouy) or La Dame à la Capuche (Lady with the hood). It was discovered in a cave at Brassempouy, France in 1892.
She is 3.65 cm high, 2.2 cm deep and 1.9 cm wide – 1.43 inches high, 0.87 inches deep and 0.56 inches high. A vertical crack on the right side of the face is linked to the internal structure of the ivory. On the head is a checkerboard-like pattern formed by two series of shallow incisions at right angles to each other; it has been interpreted as a wig, a hood, or simply a representation of hair.
Brassempouy is a small village in the département of Landes in southwest France. Two caves near the village, and only 100 metres from each other, were among the first Paleolithic sites to be explored in France. This sculpture along with eight other sculptures were discovered in the Pope’s Cave in 1894.
Although the style of representation is essentially realistic, the proportions of the head do not correspond exactly to any known human population of the present or past. Archeologists and researchers have determined that not only is this sculpture the earliest of a human face, it also is a conceptual depiction of a woman indicating that the cromagnon artist was capable of a higher level of imagination, thinking and creativity than was ever attributed before this discovery.
As I held this tiny intricate and detailed work of art my preconceived notions of cromagnon beings faded away. I found myself in awe knowing that the tools used to carve this sculpture were crude and less than precise, yet here was this amazing piece of history held between my fingers.
What other preconceived notions do I hold that are totally wrong? If an artist created this work of art more than 25,000 years ago with primitive tools, what are we capable of doing, thinking, inventing and creating today?
All I know is that I held in my hands an important representation of art from the dawn of man… And now, space and time have taken on a totally new meaning to me. I think I will need some time to put my arms around all that. Until then I stand in awe of an experience I will never forget.
Cheers from France